Saturday, May 1, 2021

Mainline passenger cars on a small layout

 I have written in several previous posts about the opportunities — and limitations — of a small layout, which has modest staging capacity, to operate realistic passenger trains. My modeling era of 1953 saw the Coast Route trains, such as the Daylight and Lark, operating at almost full size, meaning 11 to 18 cars, depending on the season. I can barely stage half that length (for 80-foot cars) on my layout.

One possible answer is the “Coast Mail,” trains 71 and 72 in my era, which varied considerably in size, and was often photographed with as few as six cars by tireless Coast Route photographer Wilbur C. Whittaker. When asked about it, Wilbur (as he preferred to be called) verified that he often saw short “Coast Mail” trains.

In writing about nos. 71 and 72, I began with introductory material about the Coast Route prototype (at this link: ), then went on to describe modeling options for the SP head-end cars I would need to model mail trains (you can find it here: ), and concluded with a discussion about the painting and lettering options for these models (it’s located at: ).

But another option is the fact that equipment was deadheaded between Los Angeles and San Francisco at times. Both terminals maintained some extra cars for overflow needs and to substitute for cars suddenly unfit for service (often called “protection” cars), and those cars, as well as cars needing maintenance, were also sent regularly to and from Los Angeles General Shop. There are photos of such cars in the consist of the “Coast Mail,” likely not carrying passengers. There also exist a few photos of entire trains of deadhead equipment, for example after heavy movements of cars that served a convention.

This frees me to operate a few lightweight cars, such as Lark sleepers or Daylight coaches, along with various heavyweight Pullmans and perhaps a relief diner, within a deadhead move. I do have some of the specialized cars that operated in Daylight and Lark consists, such as boat-tail observations and the distinctive Daylight combine, but these mostly remained in regular service. Instead, the “garden variety” sleepers would be better choices, or else the protection cars, such as a single-unit tavern.

This is a Soho brass corrugated tavern, which I’ve numbered SP 10310, one of the Class 77-T-1 cars, though it was probably never painted for the Lark (most of its life was spent in Daylight paint).

Years ago, Hallmark Models imported a brass heavyweight MKT diner, the window arrangement of which is similar to the Class 77-D-9 diners of Southern Pacific, including the clerestory roof (there should be one more window in an SP aisleway section). Here is one of those cars, shown trailing a westward deadhead move through my town of Shumala. I numbered it SP 10156, an actual member of this class.

Of course, by my modeling year of 1953, a protection diner was more likely to be a lightweight car. Although the old Rivarossi (AHM) “1930” lightweight diner only generally resembles SP’s lightweight diners of Class 83-D-1, I did paint and letter one in SP’s “pool” paint scheme, two-tone gray with no train insignia. It’s numbered SP 10209, a car originally painted yellow for the City of San Francisco.

Finally, it would be at least equally natural to all of the above cars for a Daylight coach to be part of a deadhead move. Below you see one of the Broadway Limited Class 79-C-2 models, SP 2486, shown at the rear of an eastward train of this kind, just passing the Shumala depot. This model has the full-width diaphragms that many SP passenger cars had until the early 1950s. 

I mentioned Lark sleepers as likely candidates for these deadhead moves. I will return to Lark modeling issues in a future post, but for now, let me just show two Lark paint jobs on the AHM 10-6 sleeper. These definitely show up on the rear of my mail train or on any deadhead move.

(Before concluding, I should mention that prototype data and very extensive photo coverage of all the car types and classes mentioned above are in the relevant volumes of the five-volume Southern Pacific Passenger Cars set, published by the SP Historical & Technical Society.)

For any of the cars you see above, and for others as well, a deadhead move is an ideal way to include these kinds of passenger cars in layout operations without being able to run the full, actual trains for which they were painted and usually serve. It wouldn’t be my first choice, but it’s what I can do.

Tony Thompson

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